Category Archives: Restaurant

It’s White Truffle Season!

Vineyard in Piedmont region in Italy
Photo: Davide Dutto/Ente Turismo Langhe Monferrato Roero

Each year, culinary connoisseurs convene in Northern Italy’s Piedmont region to honor the white truffle. This rare and very expensive type of mushroom is only available in this region a few months out of the year. From townies to top chefs, autumn is the season to celebrate the gastronomic treasure whose shavings transform any dish into a luxury item. 

Ongoing through November 24, the International Alba White Truffle Fair is one of Italy’s longest-running festivals, celebrating its 89th birthday this year. Held in the old town of Alba, a UNESCO Creative City for Gastronomy, the Fair initially focused on the food and wine of the region but has now expanded to include immersive experiences and cultural events.

White Truffle from Alba, Italy
Photo: Stefania Spadoni/Ente Turismo Langhe Monferrato Roero

Every Saturday and Sunday, the White Truffle World Market buzzes with exhibitors, purveyors, chefs and local wineries. Within the 2,000-square-yard market, you’ll have the opportunity to purchase truffles certified by the National Truffle Study Centre and hobnob with likeminded foodies, all gathered in praise of the seasonal favorite with the distinct scent and delicious flavor. 

A version of this article was first published in Travel Squire.

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Yucatan Reveres Its Mayan Ancestry While Focusing on Mexico’s Future

Horse riding in Hacienda Uxmal, Yucatan State, Mexico
Hacienda Uxmal–Photo courtesy of Mayaland Group

About an hour drive from the Cancun International Airport, the State of Yucatan countryside is a gateway to ancient Mayan culture and a study in how ancestral traditions are kept alive by the current generation. It also may be one of Mexico’s best kept tourism secrets, though that is soon about to change.

The State of Yucatan is one of three states that occupy the Yucatan Peninsula. Though American visitors are most familiar with the Mexican Caribbean stretch between Cancun and Tulum (which is in the State of Quintana Roo), the neighboring State of Yucatan is readying for its prime-time debut.

The new President of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, largely campaigned on creating the Mayan Train that would transport visitors from the tourist-saturated areas (the aforementioned Cancun, Tulum, etc.) to less-discovered gems. The proposed 913 miles of track are scheduled to be functioning by 2023. Though the ambitious project is not without its controversies, one thing is certain: it will alter tourism in the region. 

Don’t wait. Currently, the best way to explore the Yucatan State is on a road trip that can include archeological wonders, complex cultures and unspoiled natural habitats. As Mexico’s second busiest airport (after Mexico City), Cancun is an easy direct flight from many U.S. cities; then drive inland…

Read more about my travels through the Yucatan State of Mexico in Travel Squire.

Photo courtesy of Los 7 Cenotes

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HA Restaurant-Hotel Xcaret

A view of Chef Carlos Gaytan HA Restaurant in Hotel Xcaret, Riviera Maya Mexico
HA Restaurant in Riviera Maya, Mexico

“We want to be the best hotel restaurant in the world. That’s what we’re pushing for.”

Uttering that statement as he welcomes us into HA Restaurant, Chef Carlos Gaytan sets a very high bar. He then spends the next 3 hours exceeding all expectations.

After all, this isn’t your typical hotel restaurant. Carlos Gaytan is the first Mexican chef ever to receive a Michelin Star (for Mexique in Chicago). And although HA Restaurant is located within Hotel Xcaret in Riviera Maya, Mexico, it is open to all diners with a reservation and is the one restaurant not included in the hotel’s all-inclusive package. It’s a stand-alone culinary masterpiece in a resort area more commonly associated with dinner buffets.

*Read the full article published in Travel Squire

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Filed under Caribbean, Hotels, Mexico, Publications, Restaurant

First-Timers Guide to San Juan

This past January, my boyfriend and I visited San Juan for the first time and fell in love with the capital of Puerto Rico. I feel honored to have contributed to the new LGBTQ travel portal of DiscoverPuertoRico.com and, in some small way, help guide new travelers to the Caribbean’s most gay friendly destination. 

PRico

As a first-time visitor, you’ll quickly realize Puerto Rico’s capital city is the LGBTQ Caribbean destination you’ve been searching for. Rich in history, breathtakingly beautiful and offering non-stop flights from 49 destinations, it is an ideal quick winter getaway.

San Juan satisfies the desire for a culturally-unique, tropical escape, combined with the ease of never leaving the United States. You don’t need a passport, will use U.S. currency, and can easily communicate in English and Spanish. It is also exceptionally gay-friendly.

Read my full article on DiscoverPuertoRico.com.

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Filed under Caribbean, Gay/ LGBTQ, Hotels, Publications, Restaurant, U.S.A.

UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya

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UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya

Gay travelers to Mexico are increasingly becoming bi… coastal, that is.

According to the 2018 report by Community Marketing & Insights, Mexico is the second most visited international destination for LGBTQ travelers from the United States (Canada is the first). Within the country, the areas around Puerto Vallarta and Cancun/Riviera Maya are the two most popular.

Wooing our community to Mexico’s eastern coast, the UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya is prioritizing becoming the region’s most LGBTQ-friendly all-inclusive….

Read the full article published in EDGE Media Network

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A Tasting Tour of Astoria, Queens

AstoriaSubwayPhoto via flickr/Ed McGowan

New York is a city of immigrants, a place where diverse cultures co-exist, thrive, expand and blend. We are a mish-mash of transplants. And that mish-mash tastes real good.

Last month, I had the delicious joy of joining Cristina Lombardi, the insanely knowledgeable owner of Follow Me New York City Adventures on their “Taste of Queens Adventure.” This private, customizable walking tour focuses on the neighborhoods of Astoria or Flushing, depending on the interests of the guests. In fact, Follow Me NYC can customize pretty much any type of tour you’d like: from a tipsy tour through the city’s speakeasies to a sweet-tooth tasting of the city’s best candy and dessert spots. They also offer a la carte adventures exploring Times Square & Theater District, Wall Street & Financial District, Central Park and Greenwich Village.

On a sunny and blustery fall day, our small group set out to taste our way through Astoria, Queens. Queens is the most diverse borough of New York City and, depending on what survey you read, it is either in the top three or the most diverse county in the entire United States. According to the last U.S. census in 2010, 48.5% of the population of Queens is foreign-born.

We began our tour with a brief history lesson. We learned Astoria was named after the wealthiest man in America (at the time), John Jacob Astor, in the hopes he would invest in his namesake neighborhood. And though he could literally see it from his palatial home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it is rumored Mr. Astor never actually set foot in Astoria, nor invested any substantial money. Regardless, the name stuck and, through the years, Astoria became home for every wave of immigrants that landed on our shores.

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Galaktoboureko

Throughout the early to mid 1900’s it was primarily Irish, Italian and Jewish. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Greek immigrants began flocking to Astoria and creating one of the largest centers of Greek culture in the United States. So, it was fitting that our first stop was the family-owned Yaya’s Bakery for a taste of Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek phyllo dough pastry filled with warm custard and drizzled with a light syrup made from honey and lemon juice. Not only was it delicious, but it was a dessert I would have never thought of ordering had it not been for our guide, Cristina, who chose this pastry specifically for that reason.

With warmer bellies, we headed to La Cabaña Grocery for Tacos al Pastor (a pork taco with fresh cilantro, pineapple, chopped onion and a squeeze of  lime). The bodega sells traditional spices, authentic ingredients and beloved Mexican treats in a no-frills but all-taste setting.

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Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant

From one characteristically spicy cuisine to another, we next savored a vegetable Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant, which specializes in Northern Indian dishes. Don’t forget to dunk the potato, onion, pea and lentil-filled pastry in the mint chutney for the full flavor explosion.

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Spinach Burke

Our walk continued to Djerdan for a Spinach Burek, a Balkan staple and probably my favorite of the day. The crispy phyllo-dough pastry is filled with cheese and freshly sautéed spinach and shaped like a (very tasty!) cigar. Insider tip: In between trips to Astoria, you can order from their online store.

At our next stop, Zenon Taverna, a member of the family that owns the restaurant greeted us with a crash course in Cypriot cuisine, explaining “we use a lot of mint and cumin… we use all the spices that Greeks won’t.” He continued describing the flavors as a blending of traditional Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences, before serving us Trahana Soup. The traditional Cypriot soup is made with bulgur wheat, thickened in chicken stock, Greek yogurt, halloumi (a type of goat cheese) and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

From the traditional to the trendy, our group headed to the very popular Queens Comfort, which had a line of folks waiting to enter. Inside, there was a DJ spinning for a brunch clientele that was equal parts multi-generational families and Millennial hipsters. Our takeaway was a taste of the Atomic Fire Balls–deep-fried, Siracha-infused mac ‘n cheese balls. If these spicy nuggets were indicative of the other menu options, I can easily understand the long line of eager diners.

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Atomic Fire Balls

Our final stop took us to Little Morocco for a taste of the Merguez sausage, a minced lamb sausage spiced with cumin, chili peppers, sumac and harissa. The area of Steinway Street, where the restaurant is located, is often called Little Egypt or Little Morocco, as Lebanese, Northern African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been steadily settling in the area since the 1980’s.

This tour through Astoria was a much-needed reminder that diversity makes New York City great—always! As a now seasoned New Yorker I too often stay within my own neighborhood out of habit and, well, laziness. But no one moves to New York to stay within his comfort level. Especially as politicians are using the topic of immigration to stoke unfounded fears, it’s important to remember that our diversity makes us stronger, makes us better, and makes our walks through Astoria all the more tasty.

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(The restaurants we visited on our tasting adventure; our fabulous guide, Cristina Lombardi, in center; Trahana Soup lower left.)

***To share in the experience, visit the “Astoria Tasting” highlighted story on the @travelingiq Instagram

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Brewnuts: Donuts & Beer

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What is better than a donut shop? …A donut shop with beer!

Located in the Gordon Square neighborhood of Cleveland, Brewnuts combines two delicious tastes, not typically enjoyed together. Clevelanders Shelley and John Pippin, not only incorporate craft-beer as an ingredient in their doughy deliciousness, but also serve sixteen local brews on tap (and even more bottled). The donuts are all hand-made in their shop, with a regularly changing menu that includes traditional favorites and seasonal features. During my recent visit, the daily offerings included Maple Bacon, Strawberry Sprinkle and Peanut Butter Cocoa Pebbles, among others.

The shop features artwork by local artist Glen Infante and bright-pink donut floaties adorning the tropical-leaf printed wallpaper. Enjoy a donut or brew at the counter or relax in the lanai-inspired sitting area. The Brewnuts shop is trendy and tropical, with decor fitting for both the ladies of Mean Girls and Golden Girls.

Brewnutslounge

*Photos by IQ

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Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado-Samana, Dominican Republic

1-LBP Cayo Levantado_Aerial View

The Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado sits on its own island, accessible only by ferry, off the secluded Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic. This luxury all-inclusive resort is perfect for couples seeking a romantic escape, away from a party scene.

Though there’s much to explore in Samana, the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado has you covered should you want to stay put on your own little Caribbean island. The all-inclusive resort offers 6 restaurants, with buffet and international a la carte options; and 4 bars, including a beach bar and a pool bar. Guests have full access to the resort’s relaxing private beach with kayaks and paddle boards available for use. There is also a public beach for day-trippers with lively beachside restaurants and bars. The resort even includes a scuba diving lesson in one of its 2 pools, should you want to prepare for deeper sea exploration. At night, you can hit the disco or enjoy nightly entertainment, ranging from acrobats to dance troupes. During our stay they even featured a synchronized swimming performance. Or you can wind down a romantic evening in your room with a specially prepared bath, from their butler services menu…

Read the full article, published in ManAboutWorld by clicking here

https://www.manaboutworld.com/checkout-luxury-bahia/

 

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IQ in EDGE: Puerto Vallarta’s Almar Resort

Couple at Pool at Mantamar Beach Club

The Mantamar Beach Club at the Almar Resort

The newest and only luxury beachfront LGBTQ hotel in Puerto Vallarta will make your tub bubbleth over. With hot tubs in 29 of its 78 suites; an infinity pool (featuring swim-up bar and more hot tubs) off the sands of Los Muertos Beach; member access to Mantamar Beach Club, the premier beach club in Zona Romantica; and a rooftop bar with heart-warming sunset views, drag shows and — yes, even more hot tubs — the Almar Resort is making sassy classy in Mexico’s favorite gay beach retreat…

Click here to read the full article published in EDGE.

Ivan Quintanilla published in Edge Media

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IQ in New York Magazine: San Antonio

With new museums and riverfront projects, San Antonio is finding new ways to celebrate its international history…

Click on the picture below to read the article published in New York Magazine:

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